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Shuttle Hatch Stuck _ Spacewalk Canceled But Another Try Possible

November 29, 1996

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) _ They pushed. They pulled. They tugged. They jiggled. But two astronauts trying to leave the space shuttle Columbia for a spacewalk couldn’t open the hatch.

Finally, after more than two hours of struggling with the handle Thursday night, Tamara Jernigan and Thomas Jones were told to take off their bulky spacesuits and forget it for the night.

``Today didn’t go exactly as we had hoped,″ commander Kenneth Cockrell told Mission Control.

Jernigan and Jones could not fully rotate the handle to release the hatch, which separates a cramped indoor chamber from the shuttle’s open cargo bay. They said something seemed to be jamming the latch.

``I’m pushing as hard as I can,″ Jones said.

Flight director Rob Kelso said today it didn’t appear debris was in the way. To be sure, Mission Control asked the crew to beam down video showing tiny holes in the latches to see if they were clogged.

If the problem is fixed quickly, the two could perform the spacewalk, an important preparation for the planned construction of a space station starting next year, as early as Saturday night, NASA said. That’s when spacewalk No. 2 was supposed to be conducted.

Flight directors refused to speculate whether a second spacewalk could be attempted later during the flight if things go well Saturday. The mission ends next Thursday.

Mission managers ruled out a attempt at a spacewalk tonight to give engineers more time to assess the problem.

Earlier today, after the spacewalk was called off, the five Columbia astronauts feasted on turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin-colored cakes. Their Thanksgiving dinner originally was to follow the 6 1/2-hour spacewalk.

``We’ve got high hopes for tomorrow and the rest of this flight,″ Cockrell said. ``But we still have a lot to be thankful for.″

Jernigan and Jones were supposed to conduct two spacewalks to test tools for international space station construction. NASA wanted to see what it would be like to move cumbersome equipment like a space station battery.

Never before has a spacewalk been conducted on Columbia, the oldest space shuttle. A spacewalk that had been scheduled in 1982 aboard Columbia was canceled in orbit because of spacesuit problems.

As they struggled to solve the problem, the astronauts, who had trained for their first spacewalks for the past year, took off the handle and put it back on several times. But that didn’t help.

Wearing big gloves and confined in a small area, the astronauts had a hard time applying much force to the handle. Jones tried standing on Jernigan so she could put more force on it.

The chamber was repressurized so astronaut Story Musgrave could go in and check the handle with his bare hands. But his luck was no better.

Jerry Ross, the astronaut on the ground in charge of spacewalking, said from his experience in orbit, the hatch was easy to open.

``It’s fairly light forces overall. That’s what was a little bit surprising to us,″ Ross said. The force is ``certainly not as high as a lug wrench on a bolt,″ he added.

Even before the latest troubles, Musgrave, the oldest man in space and a veteran spacewalker, warned that NASA needs to start hustling if it is going to give astronauts enough spacewalking experience to build the space station.

``We are going to have to ramp up those resources and the capabilities to handle that amount of spacewalking. We’re not there yet,″ Musgrave said before Columbia’s launch Nov. 19.

``It’s moving a little slow right now,″ he added, ``and it will take an exponential to get us where we need to be.″

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